System change after Kelbie quit sparked Shire title charge

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Turning a negative into a positive may have boosted East Stirlingshire’s hopes of lifting the Lowland League crown.

They go into this weekend’s home clash with Dalbeattie Star looking to make it ten games without defeat.

And Shire coach John Sludden has admitted a re-think of tactics prompted by the sudden retirement of key summer signing Kevin Kelbie has helped bring unforeseen rewards.

Sludden says while at the time Kelbie’s departure was a real blow, his side are now reaping the benefits of playing in a changed, settled system with players who are enjoying their roles.

Shire’s run has allowed them to jump out of the Lowland League peloton and victory on Saturday could see them bridge the gap to the top three.

The coach claims that switch in form was partly down to experimenting with different formations which was brought about by the unwanted departure of player everyone at the club wanted to keep.

“There was a lot of chopping and changing,” he said. “And we had to bring in new personnel when Kevin decided to retire and that led to a re-think.

“When Kevin played we used him as a target man but we had to switch things round after he left. Now we have Andy Rodgers and Paul Sludden with Liam Allison and Steven Brisbane joining them up top, and the three in midfield seems to suit us as well.

“But we can still be flexible and play a 4-4-2 when we need to as well. Overall, though, the changes seem to have worked well.”

There is little doubt Shire are champing at the bit for Saturday’s game. They had a blank fixture card last weekend because of early exits from the national cup competitions, and their attempts to arrange a friendly to fill the gap were thwarted by last week’s snow.

But the team was not without its injury concerns and the break from action will have allowed time for skipper Derek Ure, keeper Jamie Barclay, and Andy Rodgers to recover from knocks.

Connor Greene and Jordan Tapping were both absent from Shire’s last competitive outing, a 2-1 victory over Edinburgh University, because of flu and they should now be fit to resume.

“We want to keep this run going,” said Sludden. “The way we are playing we are looking to win every game but, at the same time, you have to give your opponents respect and you have to go and earn the right to three points.

“The players proved that against Edinburgh University, where they had to find that extra level to come back from 1-0 down late on to win.

“Nothing comes easy and Dalbeattie Star are a team we have had our problems against in the past,” he continued.”

“They have dangerous individual players who will give you problems but we are at home and playing with confidence and we hope to win.”

This weekend’s opponents thought they should have beaten Shire in the reverse fixture at the start of the season, a game which ended in a high-scoring 3-3 stalemate.

But that was then, and this is now. Shire were still experimenting when the teams last met in August and Kevin Kelbie was, then, seen as the great white hope in helping them lift the Lowland League crown.

All that has changed. Now they season has improved out of all recognition and that’s one thing they only want to continue into the foreseeable future.